City leaders concerned over missing yearly reports from police; county leaders content with alternatives to sheriff’s reports
photo by: Journal-World File Photos
Though Lawrence city leaders showed some concern about yearly reports missing from the police department, Douglas County leaders said they believe they have the information they need about the sheriff’s office from various other reports.
As the Journal-World reported May 17, the Lawrence Police Department and Douglas County Sheriff’s Office are both missing some annual reports from recent years. In addition, some of LPD’s reports don’t offer as much information as they have in the past.
Since then, LPD has published its 2018 annual report to its website; however, as of Friday afternoon, its use of force reports were still missing for 2016, 2018 and 2019, as were annual reports for 2015, 2016 and 2019. A department spokesperson told the Journal-World that the 2017 annual report was never completed because of rapid turnover in the position that compiles them, the executive assistant to the chief.
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office’s last annual report covers 2016. A spokesperson for the agency said recently that the 2017 and 2018 reports were nearing completion, but 2019’s was further out.
Neither department has any legal obligation to publish these types of reports. The agencies report crime statistics and other information to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation each year. However, it is an expectation of some city leaders that the various reports be completed.
“They need to be producing the reports, and we need to stay on top of that,” City Commissioner Lisa Larsen said of LPD. “… We generally get some sort of an annual report of what our various departments have accomplished, and so I don’t think there shouldn’t be any less requirement for the police department to make sure this information is provided.”
Vice Mayor Brad Finkeldei said his only knowledge of the reports and the reasons for their absence came from the Journal-World’s recent article on the subject, and knowing that some were incomplete or delayed because of personnel turnover, he didn’t want to be “too judgmental.”
“I wish those reports were out there, and I certainly encourage the LPD to finish them up and get them out there as quickly as they can,” he said.
City Commissioner Courtney Shipley concurred.
“Reports that are due need to be turned in,” she said. “They’re not timely, but they still have to be done.”
County leaders are in somewhat a different position. They don’t hire the sheriff.
“The Sheriff is an elected official and he is responsible for overseeing the Sheriff’s Office,” Douglas County Commission Vice Chair Michelle Derusseau said in an emailed statement. “We have a good working relationship with the Sheriff’s Office. They respond and provide us with an unlimited number of reports.”
Douglas County Commission Chair Patrick Kelly said that he wishes the sheriff’s office would complete the missing annual reports, but he feels as though he’s getting the information he needs to make informed decisions about the planned expansion of the Douglas County Jail. Kelly said Friday that he has asked the sheriff’s office many times to provide more data, and he’s received it.
“They’ve done a lot of work in providing us a lot of information, and I think it’s important to recognize the work effort, the time it takes to do that,” Kelly said.
Similarly, Douglas County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said via email Wednesday that although the sheriff’s office’s annual reports haven’t been completed in a timely fashion, other reports completed for the County Commission and the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council have provided a more complete and thorough review.
“Since 2015, the Sheriff’s Office has partnered with numerous experts to utilize and analyze Sheriff’s office data in more advanced methods than a standard annual report,” she wrote.
She listed a report from each year, 2015-2019, completed by outside groups: Huskey & Associates, the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare, two from Justice Concepts Inc. and, most recently, one from the Council for State Governments Justice Center. In addition, she said, the sheriff’s office “has produced several presentations each year on jail population, historical, current point in time and project capacity analysis.”
Those expert reports are available on the county’s website, douglascountyks.org. However, the Journal-World was unable to locate any point-in-time data, which offers a snapshot of numbers of inmates in custody and for what reasons, provided to the commission during 2019. There was such a report included in the agenda packet for the County Commission’s Jan. 29 meeting, and the Journal-World has received multiple reports completed in 2018.
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Times are changing for both agencies. New leadership is on the way, as Lawrence Police Chief Gregory Burns Jr. has resigned and Douglas County Sheriff Ken McGovern is not running for reelection.
The city announced Burns’ resignation May 18, and longtime Capt. Anthony Brixius was appointed interim chief. Burns had declined to comment for the Journal-World’s initial article about the missing reports.
Brixius sent an emailed statement Friday for this article.
“We recognize that there has been a decline in our department reporting systems. This is primarily due to changes in or vacancy of staff positions and technology challenges related to the department’s information systems and reporting to outside agencies,” he wrote. “We are currently working on developing new systems to improve public information access. Our community will see noticeable differences in our future reporting.”
City Manager Craig Owens said in an emailed statement Friday that one of the things the city would be prioritizing across all its operations was performance measurement and reporting.
“The key metrics associated with the City’s strategic plan are needed to help us at both an organizational and community level to understand how we are doing based on the goals we set,” he wrote. “These should be evaluated annually and periodically to facilitate insight and decisions. An important dividend of good, timely and relevant data is better engagement between the community and those we serve.”
Larsen said she thought the information in LPD’s reports could be helpful in the interview process for the next police chief to look at how the departments the candidates come from operate.
“This again is another opportunity for us to continue to evaluate what information that should be presented to the public,” Larsen said, “and I would be in favor of taking a look at that to make sure we are providing meaningful information on how our police department operates.”
One of the major changes in the LPD reporting process has been that reports detailing complaints made against officers now have almost no detail about the nature of the complaint. The reports now only state that an allegation was made that an officer or employee “violated department policy.” Previous reports, such as those covering 2015 and 2016, and to some extent 2017, provided more specific details about the nature of the alleged violation.
Finkeldei said he hoped that the interim chief or the new chief, when hired, would revisit that change.
“I would certainly hope they would look at that and make a determination,” Finkeldei said, “but certainly the previous ones provide the better information, and certainly more valuable information to the public.”
Larsen said she saw that as an opportunity to continue evaluating what information should be presented to the public.
“I would be in favor of taking a look at that to make sure we are providing meaningful information on how our police department operates,” she said.
Douglas County Commissioner Nancy Thellman did not respond to emails or a phone message seeking comment for this article. City Commissioner Stuart Boley could not be reached for comment Friday, and Lawrence Mayor Jennifer Ananda was unavailable for comment.
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